Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day seven: final stretch, Cheshire to Somerset via Wales

The completion of the story of my journey lead me a meandering route along the borders of Wales.  one place I really wanted to visit was Powys Castle.  It's significant for personal and now rather sad reasons.  My former partner and I had some happy times here and in the county,  decades previously.

The  gates of the castle are super,I think,  for their wonderful Dragon castings.  There is something a little dragonish about Ruby too.  The red emphasizes this for me,  fuel for my imagination at least.

Flexible side panels held back to fix leak
Speaking of fuel,  the biggest problem of my trip came to light aroundCraven Arms. I became aware of a very strong angel of peril as I was peering along in slow traffic. I looked down and could see my right leg looked a but damp on what was a dry day.  Fuel leak!  Fortunately I was right next to a cafe and ready for a break so I pulled in and switched off,  ready to run if things got fiery.  My luggage was pretty easy to get off the seat so I could pull the side panels away and then lift the rear of the tank.  These early polypropylene parts are super flexible so I could hold them out of the way just with bungee straps.  the leak was because one of the peril pipes had softened and partly split where it pushes over the fuel tap spigot. I had not used a clip because it interfered with a screw on the rear of the tap assembly.
So then there I was,  back in sunny Somerset. I had ridden 1660 miles of mostly A roads in England, Scotland and Wales on my adventures. Avoiding motorways had added many hours to my trip. But the roads WERE my trip. My rear end was sore, certainly. The humming of the road had reverberated deep within me, a special kind of fatigue. A special kind of understanding.

Would I do it again?

Yes,  without question.  Motorways are a grind,  necessitating hours of concentration on the manoeuvres of cars and lorries  with a constant wind roar. A roads are always changing, in and out of towns, villages and cities,  winding through vallies and  over moors.  More concentration on junctions and traffic,  including  pedestrians and occasionally crazy parking shenanigans. But more character by far.  And with a big torquey  motor,  is not a slog, it's a  lumbering dance to be mastered and within which much satisfaction may be derived.

Thanks Ruby.

The  End

Day six: 450 miles from Ullapool to Whitchurch, Cheshire

To be continued...

Monday, July 25, 2016

Day five: Stromness to Ullapool; Thunder and lightning can be frightening but it takes gusting Orcadian wind to scare me

On Wednesday, I awoke to another world. A world of Orcadian wind. The tent was whipping around me, the entrance sheet cracking as it was flicked back and forth above my cooking gear. So this was what the local lady had told me about yesterday. The wind that defines the character of those who make there lives here.

I'd already decided it would be too hard to spend another day on Orkney because I had a personal commitment to be in the Warrington area on Thursday night. I'd been enjoying the experience so much, I was tempted to try for an early ferry and do the journey in a single day. But I also felt I'd cheated myself out of a ride along the north-west coast of mainland Scotland. So instead, I'd already decided to spend the morning riding down to the southern tip of the island to St Margaret's Hope where another ferry company runs a vehicle catamaran to Gill's Head near John O'Groats.

My phone battery died around this time so I could not blog on the move any more or get weather forecasts.( I'm now writing this after the fact, also because I was straight back into the hurly burly when home).

The forecasts were grim though: hail, torrential rain and high winds throughout Scotland, moving West to East. No avoiding them then.

I got my tent and gear stowed just as the first big drops started to fall. Lucky. Then I made my way out of the Stromness camp ground around the town and out towards Kirkwall. The gusting wind was emphasized by the concentrations of rain sweeping across the road in front of me. Could this really be the same place as yesterday?

Trucks and buses bearing down towards me on the little A road created white eddies in the spray and sheets of rain as the came on. Ruby and I were pushed and pulled a meter side to side by the wind, judderingly buffetted by the wash of the other vehicles.

A tractor ahead, 10 mph and the rain hosing us down. Gloves leaking badly now. Two sponges rather than rain gear. Ruby rumbling along, unperturbed. I was purturbed. Clear road ahead, down two gears and leaping past staying as upright as possible to avoid wheelspin weaving. Past. Onward to Kirkwall. The lightning begins. Sheet lightning, flashing across the sky above us. It's twilight illumination at midday in July. Through Kirkwall, heading south now up a long long hill. Reach the top and it is now forked lightning. Brilliantly illuminated. Cracking down to my left at intervals. I've never seen anything like this before. And still the gusting wind and rain. But the intensity of the rain easing. And stops. The eye of the storm. Lightning left and right now. No hail yet. The wind is still strong but not gusting. Down the mountain. Rain again but lighter than before. Into St Margarets Hope. No ferry until 6pm. I'd misread the timetable. Typical me.

With four unexpected hours to spend, I ride further south to the tomb of the eagles. Managed to find a spot of charge in the phone for a couple of photos.
Looking back inland from the tomb site

Burnt mound site. Sauna, probably.

View from the tomb out over the north sea

Another astonishingly old site, early bronze age'burnt mound! And burial chamber. Three mist and wind added to the ancient air of the place. The little museum is very cosy indeed with artefacts that are talked through and can be held. Such nice people running it.

Late pub lunch, on to the catamaran ferry with the rain finally peering out. Bike lashed down, ready to leave with the west coast road firmly in my mind. The ferry wad sure in at 7pm. It would be quite a erode to Ullapool but that was what I'd set my heart on.

I met a wonderful woman on the deck who was on the look out for orcas. Found myself talking and talking about life the universe and everything. I must have been a horrible bore. The journey was lovely, for the company, the wild life and the scenery.

I got my ride across the north coast, filling up in Thurso. About 150 miles of beauty beyond words.I'm not even going to try to explain the primordial splendour of that journey. I arrived in Ullapool at 11:30, exhausted from the concentration and wonder of it all. Tent up in 30 mins, for only for the oblivion of sleep.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day four: Skara Brae is 5000 years old and Brough of Birsay is Beautiful

On the fourth day, I was looking at the world with different eyes. I'd achieved my aim in effect: I'd ridden as far north as I could in the UK without taking a long sea journey. Shetland is a lot further north but much more traveling by sea is involved. So on this day, I decided to do no more than amble around, trading in the atmosphere, discovering something about the island and it's culture. It was a good decision.
Camp cooker brewing tea, under an Orkney sky

The weather wad just beautiful. I was hearing takes of impossible heat in England and elsewhere. It was perfect on Orkney. All the more perfect after getting soaked doing Loch Ness yesterday. So after breakfasting on fried egg sandwiches ascends a gain of tea, I saddled up and rode out of Stomness campsite with the simple idea of taking small roads north, towards Skara Brae and Birsay.
Isle of Hoy across from Orkney, seen from above a Triumph petrol tank.
Isle of Hoy in the distance
Ruby is 25 years old this year. I am 50 years old. Skara Brae is 5000 years old. There's some kind of mathematical rightness about this.  It is a Neolithic settlement on Orkney. Ruby and I visited it yesterday. That label, Neolithic, makes it sound as though it is a crude mound of boulders. Not at all. It is a network of homes connected by covered walkways, with spaces for beds, hearths and even display shelves built in to their sides. The stone work is clean and neat, with slim interlocking blocks like modern dry stone walling. I was super impressed, needless to say, by this place. 

Orkney is a fertile place that belies its northerly location. Apparently the gulf stream does it's work up here too. I was told I'd come on the nicest day of the year, with unprecedented views out over the Pentland Firth and across Skapa Flow. My ride took me first down a dead-end set of tracks with views out towards the Isle of Hoy. After a lovely chat with a local lady, I retraced my steps back to Stromness and headed north. My northerly mission could hardly end without visiting the most northerly point on this island. So I meandered along single-track farm lanes to Brough Head.

Paddling at Brough of Birsay, towards the northern tip of Orkney, was an incredibly peaceful experience. The rocks are hard and craggy, sloping into the sea with their strata creating ridges like frozen waves. 

The Brough is a headland accessible at low tide by walking across a causeway over a stretch of these ridges. Each of them the creates long tapering rock pools, about a foot wide and may be as deep. I took my boots and socks off, stretched out my toes and plunged them into the sandy pools here.The water was reasonably warm, having stood in the Orkney summer sun for a couple of hours. Little hermit crabs wandering along beside me in the crystal clear water. A family with a couple of children, 18 months and 4 years old, were enjoying the same experience next to me. That's what I call peaceful: being a parent myself, I could appreciate the discoveries they were making and hear their utterances as a kind of twittering song. 

I continued to ride around the main island for about 50 miles, enjoying bright sunlight that only faded to black at 11:30pm. It is an agrarian landscape, a jewel of gently rolling fertile hills in the North Sea.

But my visit. I'm told, hides the nature of the place. It might be temperate haven but the winds are legendary. No trees can stand against them except some willows in a few relatively sheltered spots. I was to discover this the next day.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Day three: Stromness is a long way from Somerset

I'm pretty tired right now. I've seen some amazing sights today, riding in the Scottish Highlands. I've had literal goose bumps twice from the awesomeness of it all. 722 miles ridden since I filled up in Bath on Saturday evening. The last 200 have had it ask, mountains, desolate valleys, fertile valleys. Rain. Mist. Rain. Fog. Wind. A golden patch of sunlight high on a hillside in the great Glenn. The smell of bracken and pine.

And now I'm camped in an impossibly ancient isle.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day two: from Abergavenny to Ardlui

I astonished myself by achieving consciousness at my normal time, 6am. Astonished that is because of the very long day in the garage, the excitement of the journey, troubled sleep, and after a late night in the golf club bar. Oh dear, that wasnt the plan...
6:30am in Abergavenny, Sunday July 17th 2016
 I couldn't stomach the thought of breakfast so decided I'd hit the road after a shower. So at 7:36am, tent and clothes stored again, I was off with my trip meter showing only 50 miles since filling up near the Bath exit of the M4. I'd treated ruby to Shell Formula Nitro+ It's her favourite beverage, so now you know.

Surprisingly early in Abergavenny

I'd decided to ride over to Hereford and then follow the A49 all the way up to Liverpool, then the A6 all the way to Carlisle.

That plan worked until Shrewsbury when the road was closed for some reason and I found myself diverted towards Telford. Very annoying because it was on one of those dual carriageways with no exits for miles. Still the splendour of the countryside, in and out of Wales in these border areas made up for the way I was feeling. Ugh - grotty to say the least.

And yet Ruby was just purring away like a lion cub (very big kitten). That diversion also gave me cause to reconsider my route. I'm using two paper maps this trip and running my fingers over them seems to help me get ideas as I go. A cafe stop at The Lazy Trout made the world seem a calmer place, but for some amazingly obnoxious old men at another table. They looked to be in their 60s and were extolling the virtues of driving whilst drunk. One was boasting about the cuts on his arms from where he fell out of his car drunk the previous night. A very dangerous pair of idiots. Let's give the young a break when thinking about driving ascends road sense.

I'd wanted to ride over the Runcorn Mersey bridge for years so that's what I did. It lead me into a maze of bypasses and post-indusrial chaos in Widness and St Helens so I decided I would go by the M6 until just past Preston.
hen I referred to the A6 firm Garstang wher Ruby got another draft of formula shell with 243 miles showing on the trip.

Unfortunately I had to get back on the motorway at Lancaster because the road had been freshly "surface dressed". That means the road is sprayed with tar and covered in piles of stone shrapnel.

I was also feeling so grim I pulled into a service station the M6 to get some sleep. I just lay on a grassy bank next to the car park and closed my eyes. An hour had passed by the time I opened then again

Feeling much better for it, it reinforced my spirits still further with a pot of traditional English tea and a cake.  I then I returned to the A6 for lovely Kendall and the run up to the top of Shap Fell.

Carlisle is an impressive proper city. I am glad I stated on it all the way through to the A7 .

Right in the centre of Carlisle next to the railway station
I'd thought about camping near Carlisle but by note my head was clear and Ruby was on her element so I just kept going north on the A7 until Longtown near the Scottish border. 

Hooray for Bonnie Scotland!

I was thinking I  might as well camp just south of Glasgow, ready for a big day on windy Scottish roads tomorrow. But then I thought, maybe I could get to Hellensborough. It was about 6pm and I wanted to be camped for 8pm. It's a long wad from the border to Glasgow. So I cut across to Gretna and got on the A74. Fast progress meant more replanning. This sort of shilly shallying went on for the next hour and I was over the Erskine Bridge. The Clyde and The Mersey in one afternoon. How cool is that?

Finally I stopped at a farm campsite at the northern end of Loch Lomand, near a village caked Ardlui. 475 miles on the trip, making 425 mainly A-road miles today. Fantastic. 

And more tomorrow as I see how far north I can go.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day one: A mechanical spruce up and Going North(ish)

I've been wanting to do a really big trip for ages. It's hard for me to get time between September and June. I've built up quite a bit of leave. So the time is right! I'm heading as far north as I can feasibly go. I plan to avoid motor ways for the most part, for maximum exposure to the joy of summer biking. I have six days. Crazy to go so far when nearly all those days will be taken traveling there and back. Except they are what I have and traveling by motorcycle is holiday for me.

Ruby has been running well when warm but not starting with much enthusiasm. And occasionally coughing. I'd bought some carb inlet rubbers a while ago knowing that the originals were marginal. So I decided to change them before I set off. Close inspection shows they are perished but I could not see cracks all the way through. Better without cracks though so a pleasing job to have done.

Perished carb inlet rubbers
 And the valves were due to be checked.

And if I was doing a big tour and fiddling with the valves, I thought I  might as well fit the blue cams again.